Australia revealed Wednesday that female passengers on 10 planes flying out of Doha were forced to endure “appalling” physical examinations, as Qatar expressed regret for the distress caused to the women.
Facing potentially devastating commercial and reputational damage, Qatar’s government released a statement Wednesday to explain its version of events while promising to ensure the future “safety, security and comfort” of passengers.
“While the aim of the urgently-decided search was to prevent the perpetrators of the horrible crime from escaping, the State of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveller caused by this action,” the statement.
Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani had ordered an investigation and the results would be shared with international partners, it added.
However, the statement did not specifically detail that women had been forcibly examined, only referring to a “search for the parents”.
The statement said the newborn baby was a girl and had been “concealed” in a plastic bag and buried under garbage in the bin.
“The baby girl was rescued from what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her. The infant is now safe under medical care in Doha,” it said.
Human Rights Watch called Wednesday for the airport incident to trigger much greater reforms to protect women.
“In Qatar and across the Gulf region, sexual relations outside of wedlock are criminalised, meaning a pregnant woman who is not married, even if the pregnancy is the result of rape, may end up facing arrest and prosecution,” the watchdog said in a statement.
“Qatar should prohibit forced gynaecological exams and investigate and bring to account any individuals who authorised any demeaning treatment. It should also decriminalise sex outside of wedlock.”
Qatar Airways is one of the few airlines that has maintained flights to Australia since the country closed its international border early in the pandemic and restricted the return of its own citizens.